colours garden design garden photography gardening gardens gardens open to the public grasses hardy perennials ornamental grasses outdoor sculpture sculpture

Sussex Prairie Garden – a prairie garden in Sussex

This is a garden I have been reading about and admiring in photographs for several years and I have enjoyed watching it develop. Imagine our surprise when we were on a mid-week break in September and discovered that we were staying in a hotel not too far from the Sussex Prairie Garden. We couldn’t miss this opportunity so it soon found a slot in our schedule. The big question was “Can it really be as good as we are expecting?” and this stayed in my mind as we drove out to visit it. Surely we wouldn’t be disappointed!

We weren’t and we knew immediately that we wouldn’t be by the welcoming entrance, an unusual, quirky and humorous way in, coupled with a distinctive and beautifully designed garden sign.

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We also loved the simple stylized plan of the garden and the welcome notes on the back.


The leaflet described the garden as an “extraordinary garden features huge borders of sumptuous planting combinations that inspire and immerse you in an ever changing wave of texture, colour and form.”

To get to the main garden and tea shop we diverted to follow a path through the cutting garden. This area was to prepare us for the wonderful main garden we would explore after our tea and cakes.

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There are 8 acres of naturalistically planted prairie garden containing over 50 ooo plants of over 1000 varieties and these are a magnet for wildlife. The only way to share such an exciting garden with you is to create a gallery for you to follow. As usual please click on the first photo and then navigate with the arrows.

We love sculpture in the garden and here at the Sussex Prairie Garden it was used very well, integrated beautifully into the planting areas and on open areas of mown grass.

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As we reached the furthest point in the garden from the entrance we were in for a colourful surprise before we continued on our wanderings, beautiful fabric hangings on the fence.

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So the Sussex Prairie was as good as we had hoped, the planting and design was remarkable. We must return again perhaps in the autumn season.





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Croft Castle Month by Month – January

Welcome to the first post in my series of monthly posts looking at a local garden. Throughout 2014 we traveled northward through the Shropshire Plains into neighbouring county Staffordshire in order to visit Trentham Gardens.

Throughout 2015 we will travel south to Croft Castle just into our neighbouring county of Herefordshire. We live at the northern tip of the Shropshire Hills, with the welcome sign just three-quarters of a mile away. In order to get to Croft we have to go southward through this range of hills, one of the most beautiful upland areas in the UK. We will enjoy our journeys!

At the entrance building a “Tramper” scooter acted as an effective sign. As we wandered towards the garden we enjoyed views of some of the estate’s ancient trees. These old massive Sweet Chestnuts are hundreds of years old and each year another dies. Luckily new ones have been planted as replacements. A natural mulch of leaves and nut casts are snuggled at their feet.

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We soon met a much smaller and younger character, placed to help celebrate wintertime. We were to find many more of his friends. Currently there is an evening event on here based on light and these trees were part of it. We vowed to visit one evening!

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We were soon on our way to the walled garden, our favourite part of Croft. To get there we followed a long mixed border abutting a tall stone wall. There was not much to see here in January but it looked full of promise. But we found character number two and three both smiling away just like their colleague we met earlier.

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The shop, not open in the winter, is housed in an ancient barn and on shelves at its entrance these hedgehogs caught our eyes. More interesting characters!

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A gap in the brick wall enticed us into the walled garden. We always enter with great anticipation, perhaps more so on this visit as we had never visited in the winter before. Either side of the doorway there was signs of colour in the narrow borders. The colours of the berries of an Iris, the mauve flowers of Liriope muscari and the silver of the long thin catkins of Garrya eliptica.

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From the open doorway views of the walled garden opened up in front of us. We soon espied different types of trained fruit and clumps of textured perennials in the borders.

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The textured foliage was provided by silver narrow foliage of Santolinas and in strong contrast the thin strap-like leaves of the Black Grass, Ophiopogon. This is not a grass at all but in reality a Lily!

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There were two very contrasting sorts of trained fruit. Ancient beautifully sculpted apples and a much newer array of grape vines, also beautifully trained. It was so good to see the skills of fruit training created at two very different periods of time.

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What made this walled garden extra good for productive gardening was the fact that it was on a slope encouraging the sun to warm up the soil to its maximum. Even in early January the difference in temperature was noticeable. We could feel the change as we entered and exited the walled area. The photo of the door in the wall illustrates the slope and shows how steep it is.  The plants also illustrate the effects of the walls protective powers. An Iris was in flower and a Melianthus was in bud. Arum italicum “Marmoratum” was in full marbled leaf.

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When we were half way along the second edge of the walled garden we reached the gateway leading out of the garden which in the past had been clearly marked “private – keep out” so we were pleased to discover that it has been opened up for us to explore. Jude was soon on her way through! We had always longed to get a close up look at the old greenhouse range.

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We will leave you here for now as we disappear behind the beautiful, unusually shaped blue gate where we found out what new treats were in store for us before we returned to the walled garden. See part two where we discover what was going on behind the blue gate as well as in the rest of the walled garden. We also wander around the rest of the gardens at Croft.

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Are you sitting comfortably? Part 3 in this very occasional series.

So back again with another set of photographs showing the latest batch of garden seats I have enjoyed finding and sitting on. I have tried them all out purely in the name of research not because I am a weary garden visitor! And of course Jude the Undergardener has checked them all too. You will see in the one photo that she particularly likes trying out seats in gardens where tea and cakes are available! The first group of seats, including the one in the tea garden are high up in the Welsh hills in the NGS garden at Bryn Lidiart.

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In our neighbouring county of Herefordshire the gardens at Bryan’s Ground the home of the best gardening journal, Hortus, there are seats aplenty. Around the arboretum the seats give plenty of opportunities to take in the calm, restful atmosphere.

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Others dotted around the various garden compartments afford the visitor secluded viewing places.

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But we would have been in for some surprises if we had tried to sit on this collection!

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The final photo from this interesting Herefordshire garden is taken from a seat rather than of one. In the cafe area here you can enjoy tea and home made cakes while browsing through back issues of Hortus. Luxury!

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I shall conclude this the third in my very occasional series on garden seating with a very varied selection from other gardens we have visited this year.

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Who knows what part four will bring and who knows how long it will be in coming.


gardening gardens National Garden Scheme NGS Shropshire Yellow Book Gardens

Avocet NGS Open Day

At the weekend we opened our garden for the first time. Last February when we purchased the famous Yellow Book we were proud to see the name “Avocet” second on the list of gardens opening in Shropshire. Our August opening date seemed a long way off.

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Suddenly it was upon us and we got more nervous the closer to Sunday 3rd August we got. We kept making sure nothing needed dead-heading, we checked the lawn to see how long the grass was and we wandered around every border to check there was enough interest especially colour.

The day before we opened our helpers arrived, my sister Penny and husband Tony came up from Bredons Norton a tiny Gloucestershire village and my brother Graham and wife Vicky from Farnham. Daughter Jo and her husband Rob dropped in from nearby Telford. We had a great evening working on preparations and then enjoying a meal with plenty of beer and wine consumed. Sadly I had to sick with Ginger Beer as alcohol and my morphine do not go well together!

So when the opening day dawned bright we were up with the lark checking that all signs were in place, the car park was ready, plant sales and tickets sales in place and the tea shop primed and ready for off.

The all important WC and teas signs were in place first followed by the balloons and signs at the bottom of the drive.

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The ticket sales and plant sales tables were put in place and the tea shop set up ready and waiting for customers.

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Vicky quietly put final finishing touches to her courgette and lime cake in the kitchen. Neither the tea shop or kitchen would be this quiet for a long time. Her cake became a real star!

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We were to open from 11:00 until 5:00 to spread the load on our quarter acre garden. We thought we would have a quiet time until the early afternoon once everyone had indulged in their Sunday lunches. How wrong could we be as by quarter to eleven cars were already parked up and people were wandering down the lane. Our first customer, our friend Sherlie soon collected the first cup of tea and a slice of cake. This was to be the first of over 250 teas and cakes served up by by our trusty tea ladies. The drive soon filled up with visitors buying tickets, collecting our garden info sheets and looking at Jude’s plants for sale.

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Tony and Rob had the car parking well sorted. This would prove to be the last time they found time to relax. As things busied up our neighbour living in the Old forge, who had lent us the field, supplied them regularly with drinks and food. Here we see the car park attendants waiting and ready for the first customers.

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Things soon busied up and at the peak the field was almost full and we reached the stage of having only one car space left.

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Every nook and cranny of the garden began to fill up with visitors keen to see every border, many making notes and taking photos. By the end of the day my voice was hoarse with answering so many questions, most visitors wanted to know the name of certain unusual plants but many were interested in the wildlife aspects of our patch and quite a few had queries about composting. It was heartening to see so many youngsters enjoying our garden and the little quiz sheets we had prepared for them.

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As the last of the visitors wandered wearily down the lane to the car park we collapsed with tea and cakes of our own. The signs were soon down and our brilliant first opening was over.

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We were tired and elated but pleased that 275 people came to see our little quarter acre patch. We were able to send a cheque for £1363.63 to the NGS to help support their charities.

We had just one day of rest before Jude and I spent an afternoon being interviewed for a magazine article about our garden. So many photos were taken and so many questions asked. We now look forward with anticipation to seeing our garden in print.

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The Trees in Two Gardens

When we visit gardens I tend to concentrate on taking photographs of borders and flowering plants, and often ignore the wonderful silhouette of the trees.

So when we went to Dunham Massey and Trentham in February I concentrated on their trees so just sit back and enjoy my photos. A tribute to trees.

Firstly enjoy the trees of Dunham Massey.

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And now to Trentham and its trees. The first photos show trees planted during the recent renovation of the garden and the latter photos the mature trees from the original parkland.

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A Village of Gardeners – part two, after the tea break.

We sat in the village hall enjoying our lemon drizzle cake and cups of tea, while we planned our route to see the afternoon gardens which, all but one, were out in the countryside, along narrow lanes.

So suitably refreshed and legs rested we made our way to the last of the gardens in the village itself, which was described as a small cottage garden. It didn’t disappoint!  After wandering up a narrow lush lane we crossed a ford where a shallow stream of crystal-clear water rushed over the tarmacadam. There were so many well-kept plants in busy planting schemes with narrow grass paths to lead you round. We loved it!

Once we had relished this lovely crowded cottage garden we returned through the ford and turned right where another narrow lane sent us up a gradual slope into the countryside away from the village, to the next garden. We passed this tumbling down barn the home to many swallows and colourful natural hedgerow borders.

This garden was larger than the last we visited, with sweeping areas of grass, an enclosed vegetable plot, interesting plant combinations and a beautiful wildlife area featuring a pond with woodland enhancing its banks.

Sadly the last two gardens we wished to visit were miles into the countryside at the foot of the Stretton Hills so we had to take the car. The first garden was one that invited you to wander with interesting  plantings.

The final garden was up a lane with grass growing down the centre and we had to park on a very soggy field. But it was worth it as a beautiful atmospheric garden sat alongside a rippling stream running through a wooded valley. The sound of bird activity around the feeding stations in an enclosed part of the garden and their song in the surrounding borders and woodland enticed us to sit comfortably with another cup of tea and another slice of home-baked cake.

We managed to visit just nine of the sixteen gardens open before we ran out of time. We enjoyed the variety of gardens created and maintained by a variety of gardeners. These gardeners all had the advantage of living in such a beautiful little village with a strong community spirit. The last garden we visited had the added benefit of an amazing view.

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A Village of Gardeners – part one, before the tea break.

A warm day seemed just what was needed when we visited the Shropshire village of Cardington just twenty minutes from home. We made this village garden pilgrimage last year as well and couldn’t wait to return, as we had been so impressed. This year there were extra gardens to enjoy too!

The first two gardens we visited were next door neighbours but oh so different. In the first garden there were few borders and much of the available space had been taken up by a huge stone built gym and swimming pool with decking around complete with hot tub. The formal fire pit area was interesting but I did wonder if it would have housed a nice pond.

Their neighbours however had wide expanses of well-maintained lawn with beds, both formal and informal cut into it. The garden looked a little dated but had a good pool area and some interesting sculpture and pots hidden in the borders.

Wandering through the village to the next garden we noticed interesting little cameos along the way. We were looking forward to the next garden as it was owned by one of our friends from the Shropshire Hardy Plant Society.

We weren’t to be disappointed. Her garden was one of interesting plants as one would expect, inspired little details and unusual places to sit, rest and enjoy the garden and the peace of the Shropshire countryside. (look out for the family of little plastic ducks!)

Once we had visited this selection of gardens we were ready for a return to the village hall where villagers had prepared teas, coffees and home-baked cakes. Part two follows after the tea break!

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National Garden Scheme Open Day

Meeting and Greeting in the Rain

On Sunday 17th July we opened our site for the National Garden Scheme, the famous Yellow Book. Allotment holders had worked hard during the previous week cutting grass, tidying borders in the green spaces and sprucing up plots. The site looked wonderful – even in Sunday’s rain! And rain it certainly did! We were pleased though when over 100 visitors came along with brollies braving or perhaps defying the weather. I believe that gardeners get good at defying weather – others merely brave it out. Many of our visitors stayed for several hours, leaving only when they had drunk gallons of tea and consumed masses of cake, and promising to return next year. I had hoped to show how good the site looked with photos of glowing flowers and shining veggies but that will have to wait until the weather improves. These photos though depict the reality of the day.

Visitors revive with tea and cakes.